Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Two kinds of democracy

There are at least two broad kinds of democracy. A more direct democracy (as seen for example in Switzerland) assumes that the populace themselves are making the decisions and that the entire voting population will have both the requisite knowledge base and wisdom to make effective political judgements. However, a more representative democracy (as exemplified in the historic Westminster tradition) doesn’t conceive of the elected representatives as merely mirroring the opinions of the general population (as though each piece of legislation is to be decided by opinion poll), but as having been selected by their peers and entrusted to make wise political judgements on our behalf, even where these might be unpopular (at least in the short term).

Each system has dangers and drawbacks. The former (Swiss style) is perhaps overly optimistic about the wisdom of the collective population and their time, ability and interest to focus on highly complex policy matters. The latter (Westminster model) is perhaps overly optimistic about the integrity of elected representatives in making wise decisions for the common good without undue influence from corporate lobbyists. I think that the current dominant model in the English-speaking democracies with which I’m familiar is probably the worst of both worlds: populist in tone and yet largely beholden to corporate lobby interests in outcome.


Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

Have you ever looked into Demarchy?

byron smith said...

OSO - Yes, quite a few times, thanks to the number of times that you have mentioned it. :-)

It is indeed an interesting idea, and one I've been pondering. The lack of contemporary examples (apart from the jury system) makes it a little more difficult to envisage potential drawbacks. Which nation or sub-national entity will have the courage to be a guinea pig for us all?